Back when the earth was flat and the Pyrenees jutted out across the lips of the Iberian peninsula, someone, or probably a few generations of subsequent someones developed a shoe. It was a peasant shoe with no right or left, its tightly wound rope-sole held to the foot with rough canvas, and it continued to walk up and down mountainsides, across Spain, across the ever more spherical earth. The world became round eventually, its slight curve reaching up even to the mountains and valleys, yet the shoe remained largely intact, its design leaving very little room for improvement.
The Disquieting Muses
Perhaps it was an excess of chutzpah which kept Giorgio de Chirico's insistent push for a Metaphysical Art movement from proper realization as Breton's Surrealism steam-rolled through the post-Dada/Futurists, collecting writers, artists, intellectuals and Parisian “free spirits” like a horrible snowball. It could be that Metaphysical Art was too quiet, its meditation on the esoteric inner-dialog of the decontextualized object too focused. When compared to the cannabis and cocaine-inspired late-night wanderings and sloppy automatic writing of Surrealism, Metaphysical Art seemed almost neo-classical perhaps, with a more stressful sort of contemplative Buddism to it... the secret life of a biscuit.
Inner-Life of the Object
Surely the metaphysical life of a single shoe must swiftly transcend its design's history, its materials' origin, its famous proponents (espadrilles were worn by Picasso, Dali, Hemingway), even the specific right or left foot which shaped it, broke it in, and dirtied it. So, in this deeper sense can a shoe, removed from its connotations, retain chutzpah? Or, for that matter, is a person born with chutzpah: one of those simple traits which endow us with that extra sense of self, that tiny shred of something unique within us that makes us “us” regardless of environment and upbringing? If an object's upbringing is its context and cultural reference, what gives it that extra thing, this De Chirican inner-life? It is here where a representation of a mannequin ceases to represent a human, where a balloon ceases to represent the head of a mannequin, where an egg acts as a conceptual stand-in for a balloon.
The Ruinenberg sits atop a hill beside the palace Sanssouci in Potsdam. The faux ruins were built to mask a giant water tank which was (incorrectly) designed to power Frederick The Great's many desired fountains. Aside from the picturesque view they provide from the palace windows, the faux ruins themselves have a secret life as objects. Completely non-Roman objects, they embody the trappings and failures of Romanticism in all of its beauty and longing. Due to technical miscalculations, the windmills couldn't pull even a drizzle of water from the tank on the hill down to the palace's dry fountains. But beyond their narrative there is still the sense of something there, this metaphysical something present in a De Chirico, this higher “objectness”.
So, as with a half-fallen curtain, torn and hanging whether from haste or wear or neglect or careful construction and stitching, taken from its supposed context and use of veiling or covering or blocking and neutralized, we are faced also with a reconstruction, a faux history, and asked if when this narrative is stripped away, what of the object is left? Is there something else in the ether of the false ruin?
There is this necessary failure, the inoperative water-tank, the fallen painting, which complements the triumphant: the inflation of a balloon to the point just shy of exploding, the delicate balance atop a ceramic bottle, the precariousness of other near-failures. Referencing the harmonious ideals of Mannerism, its affected draping curtains, its absurd settings, repressed representations which omit their disappointing underbelly, a preserved ruined curtain hides nothing and embodies both triumph and failure.
Martin Kippenberger, a famous haver-of chutzpah, explored this objective hidden state of being through his running series of “Eiermann” paintings devoted to, in, and around the image of the egg. While Warhol's banana was more a singled-out mass-production of a consistent, seemingly random image, creating an icon from nothing (not even an interest in bananas), Kippenberger worked across styles and themes, including his odd eggs into all circumstances and frameworks. But unlike the archetypical ancient Japanese master painter who sits and observes a tree for several years before even setting the brush to paper, Kippenberger's eggs were often impulsive, sloppy, ecstatic, funny.
Though in English the word “egg” carries a more innocent, maternal association, most other European languages revel in the vulgar, masculine use for its plural. So perhaps the chutzpah of Kippenberger's eggs, Dali's eggs, Bataille's eggs, De Chirico's eggs can be lost in translation.